When I’m asked now if I have any brothers or sisters I usually say no. Unless I’m teased about being an only child, or the point is laboured I don’t say that I didn’t grow up alone. It’s just easier because I’ve never really found an easy way of explaining it to people: on 25 January 1998 when I was 22 my 19 year old sister was violently murdered by a stranger she met out one night. I want to try and explain a little as to how this has affected me and how I’m trying to overcome it.
After her death the guy responsible was quickly caught and arrested. There really wasn’t any mystery to what happened: he was a violent man with a history of being abusive to women and something unpleasant was going to happen sooner or later. A trial was set for October. Between January and October my parents and me had constant support from both victim support and police family liaison and we focussed on the trial.
The guy pleaded not guilty but the evidence was overwhelming. We attended court every day but some of the evidence presented was utterly haunting. It’s hard to explain what hearing information like that about my sister, someone I grew up with and was close to, did to me. It completely broke me. The trial lasted two weeks and it took the jury 25 minutes to convict him of murder.
After the trial was over I stayed living and working down near my parents for a while but missed my friends from Manchester and eventually moved back. I started a job with a web development company, got on well with the people that had set that up, and ended up helping to run and grow it over a period of 10 years. I threw myself into that, which kept my mind occupied at work, and would do everything I could at home to avoid being alone in my thoughts.
I was totally emotionally shut down; I didn’t have any kind of relationship with anybody for about 13 years. Since 2010 I’ve tried to sort myself out and re-engage with the world with varying degrees of success. My ability to deal with stress now is much poorer than it was. Being a web developer, the way I look at it is that a large part of my brain’s power is permanently devoted to trying to process this thing that happened, so that when stressful situations do arise I have less capacity to deal with them.
I’ve always had difficulties dealing with social situations. Before my sister died my brain was nimble enough to work around them but now they often overwhelm me. I have difficulties reading situations, understanding people’s intentions and am often just baffled by what’s going on. That leaves me very anxious, sometimes in a deep state of paranoia and when it’s at its worst I feel like I’m in a constant state of miscommunication with people.
So what have I learnt from all this? Primarily the importance of peer support. I’ve 5 friends that have been incredibly patient and understanding. We’ve all been through a lot together and without their support I don’t know what state I’d be in. Secondly, shortly after my sister died I was told “time’s a healer” and I remember feeling quite angry as I didn’t want to contemplate a time when what had happened didn’t matter. Of course it’s never going to not matter but the pain has definitely eased.
I’ve written this down now because this year is going to be hard. The guy who killed my sister has been in prison 19 years and is due for release this year. I need to write a victim statement for the probation service and in doing so think about what’s happened all over again. I don’t quite trust myself to avoid my own self destruction but now I have an imperative because life has been cruel to my parents again: my dad retired in March 2015 and was looking forward to spending a happy retirement with my mum when sadly he died suddenly in October 2015. My mum’s disabled so now suddenly I find myself in a parental role which feels strange. I really need to be a functional human being right now.
To do that I’m going to try and apply the things I’ve learnt. Firstly by talking about how I feel. A lot. Writing this is the first part of that. I think talking to others who have also lost siblings would help. If that’s you and you’d like to talk about it please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s said that keeping fit and exercise is as good as taking an anti-depressant for mental health. I’ve never been an exercise kind of guy but I’m trying. I’ve found CBT useful in the past for trying to break out of harmful thought patterns and that could be beneficial, especially for the social anxiety. It requires work to be put in to get good results and I need to make sure I do that.
There are no guarantees but I’m feeling tentatively hopeful of getting through the next year or two and staying healthy.